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The Times Online/UK

Obama Will Attend Copenhagen Summit Before Picking up Nobel Peace Prize

Tim Reid

US President Barack Obama will attend the climate change conference in Copenhagen on December 9, according to a US administration official. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

WASHINGTON - President Obama will travel to Copenhagen next month to attend the climate change conference, ending weeks of uncertainty over whether he would go and after intense pressure from Europe for his presence.

Mr Obama will join another 65 heads of state at the climate change conference on December 9 in the Danish capital, before heading the following day to Oslo to accept his recently awarded Nobel peace Prize, White House aides said. He will then return to the US.

The move to attend the conference came days after the White House said the US will present a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target at the forum, removing what had widely been seen as the biggest obstacle to an agreement at the summit.

Mr Obama conceded during his trip to China earlier this month that a binding treaty with firm emissions targets to replace the expiring Kyoto protocol is beyond reach, despite two years of negotiations. The most that can now be hoped for in Copenhagen is a "political agreement" with individual nations setting their own targets.

Mr Obama is expected to present a "provisional" near-term target for reducing American greenhouse gas emissions, in line with legislation currently before the US Congress. That would mean a reduction of about 17 to 20 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

As America is the world's greatest polluter, other nations attending the conference, nearly all of whom have set their own emissions targets, have been insisting that the summit will end in failure unless the US sets its own target.

All eyes are now on China - the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world - because Beijing has yet to set its own reduction target. Mr Obama will be hoping that his decision to attend the conference and to set a target will convince the Chinese to do the same.

There are fears among European and US negotiators that China will set an overly cautious carbon reduction target. If that happens, it will make it significantly more difficult to reach a deal in Copenhagen.

It would also further complicate Mr Obama's hopes of convincing skeptical senators to pass a climate change Bill at home, because they will argue that China - a rapidly rising economic rival to the US - is refusing to do the same.

When he took office, Mr Obama had hoped that he could attend the Copenhagen conference with a climate change bill passed by the US Congress. Instead, the Bill sits bogged down in the US Senate, casting serious doubt on the president's ability to actually enforce reduction targets at home.

The US Congress failed to ratify the Kyoto treaty and since it was signed in 1997 America has increased greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent.

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